The Government have introduced a major change to the law called the Enterprise & Regulatory Reform Act 2013 and from the beginning of October 2013 will potentially alter the lives of millions of workers if they are injured at work. Access to Justice will never be the same again!
This new law will make it much more difficult for a worker, injured at work because of the possible negligence of their employer, to seek financial compensation. Before the 1st October 2013 a worker could rely on other laws which would effectively hold an employer to account for breaches of health & safety in the workplace.
The new law changes the goal-posts in that the employee’s legal team would have to prove that the employer was negligent by failing to take all reasonable steps that are ‘reasonably practicable’ to comply with the regulations. In order to do this more expert witnesses would need to be involved in the case leading to higher legal costs at the very time that changes have also been made where clients are now expected to pay something towards their legal costs out of their compensation.
For example an employee is working in a factory repairing a lift when the brakes fail and he is killed. The braking mechanism is checked and no defect is found. Prior to the changes the worker would stand a very good chance of succeeding in a claim for compensation even though the employer could have done nothing about it. From the 1st October 2013 the claim would be likely to fail on the basis that no negligence could be proved. A worker injured on the 30th September 2013 wins their case; a fellow worker injured the following day loses!
Lawyers who represent clients who are injured at work are worried that more cases will be lost in circumstances where, under the previous law, they would have been likely to win. A worker who might already be worried about suing an employer might decide that there is no point in claiming because of the risk of losing, the legal costs, and fear of losing their job.
To add insult to injury this new law appears not to apply to those working in the public sector because they are employed by ‘the State’ and are protected by European law. This is excellent news if you work for the emergency services, the NHS or the Local Authority but not so encouraging if you work in the private sector along with 24 million others.
The final twist to the changes means that a pregnant or breastfeeding worker is still able to use the previous laws for a breach of Health & Safety at Work Regulations so in effect a husband would not be able to claim but his pregnant wife could!
One of the most important principles of European law has always been that any changes to the law should ‘improve’ the protection for workers. This new law will remove that protection for most workers and could result in employers having even less regard for the health & safety of their workforce. Due to the changes it is more important than ever that if you have had an accident at work you seek specialist legal advice.
Harris Fowler has a specialist accident at work department who can offer professional advice to anyone who has suffered an injury resulting from an accident at work. Free and confidential legal advice is available on 0800 213 214 or visit our website harrisfowler.co.uk
Harris Fowler is a trading name of Harris Fowler Limited and is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority no. 558271.